In hot water: Egyptian pop star Sherine Abdel Wahab faces trial for suggesting drinking from Nile River would lead to illness

The singer faces a host of charges, including incitement and harming the public interest

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 10:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 5:13pm

Egyptian pop diva Sherine Abdel Wahab has been referred to trial for suggesting at a concert that drinking from the Nile River could lead to illness.

The singer’s trial date has been set for December 23, judicial officials said, on charges of “harming the public interest”.

The announcement came after the Musicians Syndicate in Egypt said it would bar her from performing in the country after she made the remark at a concert in the United Arab Emirates.

Social media users had shared a video of a fan asking her to sing her tune “Have you drunk from the Nile”.

You’d get bilharzia. Drink Evian, it’s better
Sherine Abdel Wahab

“You’d get bilharzia,” she said, referring to a waterborne parasite Egypt struggled for decades to combat.

“Drink Evian, it’s better.”

Her comments, the Musicians Syndicate said in a statement, constituted “unjustified ridicule toward our dear Egypt”.

The population of the vast country is mostly centred on the banks of the Nile, which flows from the south to the Mediterranean Sea.

Later, Abdel Wahab posted on Facebook that the concert had taken place more than a year ago.

“I don’t recall saying that because of course I don’t mean it, and it doesn’t reflect my personal feelings towards my nation … I’m sorry,” she said.

The singer topped the charts in the region before announcing her retirement last year, but has since gone back on her decision. She was also a judge on the Arabic version of the popular talent show The Voice.

The video clip emerged at a sensitive time.

Egypt fears a soon-to-be-completed upstream dam in Ethiopia could cut into its share of the river, which supplies more than 90 per cent of the arid country’s water.

The Nile’s polluted waters must be treated to be safe for drinking. But critics took Sherine’s remarks to imply that Egypt was not doing enough to protect the river at a time when it is trying to rally world support in the dispute with Ethiopia.

Egypt’s government and media have relentlessly stoked nationalist sentiment since the military overthrew an elected Islamist president in 2013, portraying nearly all criticism as part of an international plot to undermine the country’s stability.

Activists, artists or writers who dare speak critically of government policies or the country’s general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, risk vilification on popular TV talk shows. Thousands have been jailed in a wide-scale crackdown on dissent.

Additional reporting by Associated Press